DeSantis: We'll fine Big Tech companies $100,000 daily for deplatforming candidates during a political campaign

No you won’t, Ron, and you know it. DeSantis is a Harvard Law grad, remember. He knows what happens in court when the state purports to tell a private actor that it has to promote certain kinds of speech against that actor’s wishes or risk legal sanctions. Tell Facebook and Twitter that they need to fly a Trump flag from their HQs alongside their Biden flag or else Florida will bankrupt them and see what you get from a judge.

This is a transparent MAGA pander, not dissimilar from the stunt Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley pulled on January 6 by objecting to the certification of Biden’s victory. The goal in both cases is the same, advancing some illiberal populist priority in hopes of improving one’s chances in the 2024 Republican presidential primary. In fact, to earn extra brownie points with Trump voters, DeSantis declined an opportunity yesterday when one was offered by reporters to declare that the November election was not, in fact, stolen:

But here’s what DeSantis did not want to discuss: The comments and false tweets made by Trump that the election was stolen — the things that preceded Trump’s suspension from Twitter — and whether the former president bears any responsibility for the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. When directly asked about this, DeSantis pivoted and started talking about everyone who talked about Russian collusion and interference following the 2016 election and how they were “amplified” on social media. When it was pointed out that he didn’t answer the question, he was already walking away and headed to the exit.

That’s not the first time he’s played footsie with conspiracy theorists. Back in November, a few days after the election, he nudged Republicans to pressure their state legislatures to overturn the results in states Trump had lost if the law hadn’t been followed there, a key part of Trump’s “stop the steal” strategy. The reason DeSantis is governor in the first place is because he pandered his way into winning Trump’s endorsement in the 2018 Florida gubernatorial primary. He’s following the same strategy now for the 2024 presidential nomination, which explains yesterday’s move against Big Tech. He knows this idea would violate the First Amendment but he also knows that it’s Grade A Trump-bait and Fox-bait. (Tucker Carlson rewarded him with a primetime Fox appearance last night to promote his plan, of course.) Who cares if his proposal would be laughed out of court? The point is to ingratiate himself with MAGA voters, not to punish Twitter or Facebook.

Deplatforming is a right that should belong to the citizen, DeSantis insists. Good news: It does, specifically the citizens who run Twitter and Facebook. What DeSantis really wants is for government to decide when deplatforming is warranted or not by making it prohibitively expensive for companies to do it under certain circumstances. It was a nice Orwellian touch for him to justify that proposal as a vindication of the First Amendment rather than a violation of it:

“This is why the Founding Fathers felt the need to do the First Amendment,” DeSantis said, noting that while the founders anticipated that Big Brother could be a threat to liberty, today that threat often comes just as dangerously from Big Tech. “There’s some speech that definitely provides no value and some speech that could even be harmful for society, but who gets to make those determinations? Who gets to draw that line? And when you’re somebody that’s perched in Silicon Valley, and you’re woke, and you believe George Washington and Abraham Lincoln should be removed from the schools, and you have all these different views, you’re not someone that’s going to be a referee just as I may not be someone that would referee speech that you think would be important,” DeSantis said.

With few exceptions, government doesn’t and shouldn’t get to make those determinations about which speech is harmful and which isn’t. That’s the point of the First Amendment. But under DeSantis’s scheme, had Twitter moved to ban Trump before Election Day due to a sincere and reasonable fear that he’d use the platform to incite violence, government would have a de facto veto over that decision in the form of onerous fines. The solution to Big Tech dominance of the public space that he should be pursuing here is antitrust: There’s no problem with any one social media company deplatforming someone so long as that user has somewhere else to go. But given how thoroughly a few firms dominate the industry and how great the risk is that they’ll collude to completely silence someone — witness how Trump was disappeared off of multiple platforms last month — it’s reasonable to fear de facto monopoly power to enforce groupthink.

But it’s not grounds to violate the First Amendment. And so I’ll say what I always say in posts like these: If the state think it’s important for citizens to have a platform that’s insulated from the Silicon Valley hivemind, it can always appropriate a few million bucks to create its own. DeSantisChat! You get to post anything you like so long as it’s protected by the First Amendment. It’d be a Nazi sewer in a week, but at least it would give people an alternative if they’ve been kicked off Facebook and Twitter.

Anyway, none of this matters. The only thing that matters from DeSantis’s perspective was being on camera threatening Big Tech, which he knew would make many MAGA fans happy — including the most important MAGA fan of all. Trump was no doubt thrilled to learn that his governor was “fighting” the companies that so cruelly yanked away his social media binky last month.

The funniest thing about this, by the way, is the idea that one candidate being deplatformed during a campaign would be so grievous an election liability that the state should step in with fines to prevent it from happening. Quick: Can you think of a single Joe Biden tweet from 2020? His campaign had a Twitter account and used it regularly but every Biden post was a fart in the hurricane-force winds regularly generated by Trump. Biden wasn’t deplatformed but he might as well have been. And in the end, I’d bet every dollar I have that Trump’s tweets ended up generating more votes for Biden than they did for his own candidacy.

That’s not to say that the Trump/Biden dynamic would apply in every race; it’s an extreme example, and certainly we could imagine cases where one candidate would be at a disadvantage if they couldn’t tweet while their opponent could. But how often does it happen that Twitter and Facebook silence one candidate during a campaign while leaving the other alone? Even Trump wasn’t deplatformed during the campaign, remember. DeSantis wants people to believe that Big Tech is regularly knocking GOP candidates offline while remaining hands-off with Democrats, such that the state of Florida needs to step in with legislation to prevent it from happening again. But if Trump tweeting like a lunatic day in and day out during the 2020 race wasn’t enough to get social media to oust him, realistically how urgent is this problem?